Posts Tagged ‘light bulb ban’

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When it comes to ‘doing our bit’ to deflect climate-change, changing light bulbs and conserving water are two of the ‘small actions’ that we hear most about and both have been in the news recently.

Last week the EU moved to phase out traditional incandescent bulbs (the gold-standard of illumination for more than a century’), by banning retailers from replenishing their stocks. The logic is that, while the emissions eliminated may well be minor, inefficient light-bulbs are a ‘low hanging fruit’ and banning them is a tangible way of reducing energy consumption; a first step that will engage people and build momentum for the future. (Of course, a flat ban has resulted in much right-wing jabbering, but also genuine confusion about the relative merits of the alternative compact flourescent bulbs. For what it is worth, More or Less, the statistics show on Radio 4, conducted an analysis of the pros and cons and ruled that in the long-term CFL’s are indeed significantly cheaper and more energy efficient.)

Similar momentum-building logic surely lies behind the new ‘Shower Power’ campaign in the UK (fronted, alarmingly, by Kriss Akabusi) and the more-intentionally-humorous rallying call that urges Brazilians to multitask and wee in the shower. But here we are right to ask: does drawing attention to one small facet necessarily result in greater overall engagement? Is impactful the same as effective? Indeed, in a recent paper, the American Psychological Association wrote ‘evidence is inconclusive at best about whether engaging in one type of environmentally friendly behaviour predisposes one to engage in other types of environmentally friendly behaviour.’

It seems to me that when we focus on these ‘small actions’, we tread a fine line: on the one hand, they are a great way of making complex issues seem tangible and achievable, of achieving unity and of generating energy; but on the other hand, they risk trivialising difficult problems and distorting the way we perceive our impact as a whole. The current 10:10 campaign is particularly interesting because it acknowledge this trade-off (‘The beauty of 10:10 is that it’s both achievable and meaningful), and it is notable that both the cabinet and the shadow cabinet have signed up with relatively little bickering. We have recently learnt that ‘Gordon Brown will be turning the heating down in Downing Street; Lord Mandelson plans to cycle more; Oliver Letwin is installing solar water heating and Nick Clegg is considering eating less meat.’

And yet that just sounds like trite and petty politicking, doesn’t it?

Perhaps one problem is that too often the dialogue around these ‘small actions’ neglects to mention how difficult they can actually be, in real life. Perhaps it would be better if Peter told us that he has been cycling, apart from on Thursday when he couldn’t bring himself to go out in the rain, or if Nick confessed that  last night he regressed and had a Big Mac on the way home. At least then we would know that they were actually trying. And don’t forget, to make people try is the most important thing here. If these campaigns are actually about generating momentum, then the real goal is to create genuine engagement, rather than self-satisfaction.

In justifying difficulty in poetry, a friend Josh recently wrote ‘The world becomes intelligible to us – that is to say, we can differentiate between different aspects of its existence – by virtue of the fact that it resists our activities in various ways.’ Not only are we suspicious of choices that are presented in too simple a fashion, but we only actually learn when we struggle.

And so perhaps there is no need to gloss over the struggle we have adapting to change and overcoming inertia. Perhaps, when trying to get people to ‘do their bit’, the underlying message needs to be about effort: a bit less ‘this is easy and definitely the right thing to do’, and a bit more ‘this can be frustrating and tough as well as satisfying and fun.’  Otherwise, pissing in the shower could also mean pissing into the wind.


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